Monday, 16 April 2012

Tourisme Montréal Gets Sustainable

Next week I have the pleasure of joining the Future Leader's Forum at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference. I've been asked to take participants on a 'sustainable event roadshow', sharing examples from around the world of how cities are making it easier for event planners to be sustainable. I'm excited to be tag-teaming a session with Marion Ancel from Tourisme Montréal, the host city for this year's conference. To prepare for our session, Marion was kind enough to familiarise me with what Montreal is doing to support more sustainable events.

Marion Ancel
Can you please introduce yourself and share a little bit about your role?

Almost seven years ago, I left France to live in Montréal. As soon as I arrived, I immediately felt the joie de vivre that my adoptive city is known for and soon felt at home in this one-of-a-kind metropolis. After receiving a B.Admin. (Tourism) in France, I decided to continue my studies in Quebec with a Master’s in Sustainable Development Management.

After graduating I did consulting work for a number of organisations interested in having more environmentally responsible business practises. Then, in June 2011, I joined the Tourisme Montréal team, to help put Montréal’s tourism industry on the path to sustainable development. Our goal was to change the organisational culture by raising awareness and educating all our members. As with every process of change, we know that it will take time before our green plan bears fruit. We take small steps each and every day – through workshops, newsletters, discussion platforms, social networks, one-on-one coaching, designing and providing tools and developing partnerships – toward a tourism industry that takes a responsible stand on the issues of sustainable development.

Can you highlight a few of the unique attributes of Montréal that you feel make it a good destination for sustainable events, like GMIC's conference?

Montréal has several advantages that make it a prime location for holding environmentally responsible events. These advantages are the result of a process that began in the 2000s, when the Réseau des femmes en environnement partnered with the Quebec government to produce the first guide on how to reduce and recycle the waste from large-scale public events. Just over 10 years later, the City of Montréal is working to implement 37 actions from a sustainable development plan developed by the Montréal community in conjunction with over 180 partners. We’ve come a long way … but we still have a long way to go!

However, there have been some milestones along the road. Today, Montréal can be proud of its comprehensive and efficient public transit network, that includes a direct and continuous link with our international airport; a proven self-service bicycle rental system with over 5,000 bicycles that has been adopted by several other cities (Boston and Washington, to name a few); an underground city, with over 30 km of underground pedestrian walkways, considered the largest such network in the world; and a clean energy source provided by 95% hydroelectric power. More and more meeting rooms and hotels in our city have been certified by programs such as Green Key, RéserVert, LEED and BOMA BEST, which guarantee a certain level of environmental commitment.

Since the Centre for Sustainable Development opened its doors in August 2011, Montréal has yet another advantage in terms of meeting spaces. The CSD is a bold collaborative initiative of hope and leadership in the area of urban sustainable development. It’s a unique and inspiring place that has its own green meeting rooms and event space. A wide range of green options are available to help event planners and attendees minimise their event’s environmental footprint. Event participants are free to take in Montréal’s unique take on city life by visiting cultural attractions that are well-known for giving back to their community: Tohu, Cirque du Soleil, the Quartier des spectacles, to name but a few. Indeed, culture is at the heart of Montréal’s diverse and creative vibe. In 2011, the city recognised culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development. Since then, several players in the field of cultural tourism have been recognised as leaders for their efforts in that area.

Are there any special event sustainability programs you're particularly proud to be able to offer to planners who book Montréal?

In 2010 the Bureau de Normalisation du Québec (BNQ, an internationally recognised body) adopted a Responsible Event Management standard. Henceforth, event organisers were able to have their event assessed according to five certification levels of environmental sustainability. To date, 10 Quebec companies are authorised to certify events. Those who do not yet meet the certification criteria can obtain a copy of the standard and comply with it to the best of their ability in the five priority areas.

The Palais des Congrès (or Convention Centre) helps planners put on environmentally sustainable events by offering new packages, developed in collaboration with the Conseil québécois des événements écoresponsables. Recognised since 2005 as a green building under the Go Green Program, Montréal’s Convention Centre is particularly proud of its exemplary approach to energy use. In 2009, the Centre reached BOMA BEST level 3 certification. Since 2011, the Culti-Vert Project, a rooftop container garden complete with climbing plants and vegetables, has been helping to reduce the urban heat island effect and produce organic herbs, fruits and vegetables. Part of the harvest is donated to local community organisations.

Several years ago, Tourisme Montréal and the Convention Centre joined forces to create a social responsibility and goodwill program for convention organisers called Community Kindness. The Centre provides containers where planners can deposit unused items and materials from their events. The two organisations distribute these items to partner community groups for reuse.

What are some of the challenges you've experienced in taking a more sustainable approach as an event destination?

Currently, we face two major challenges: collecting information from our members and appropriate positioning of Montréal as a green destination. When I joined Tourisme Montréal eight months ago, one of my first jobs was to answer an urgent request from the Convention Services Department: they wanted to know about other environmentally sustainable initiatives (in addition to LEED and Green Key certifications), so they could respond to event organisers looking for suppliers committed to sustainable development. In response, we created several different questionnaires for different member categories and sent them out by e-mail, but the response rate was less than what we have anticipated. We need to find another way to be on top of green initiatives undertaken by the industry; so that we can communicate them to planners, on the one hand, but also to encourage our members by example. The Internet platform we are currently building should at least partially resolve this issue.

As far as positioning the destination is concerned, we are dealing with the widespread problem of responsible communication. In other words, where is the line between insufficient communication and propaganda? Montréal’s tourism industry is becoming increasingly green but, at this point, is still not 100% environmentally responsible. Is it even possible to achieve such a goal? We have many committed players in our industry who are leaders in the area of environmental sustainability, yet we cannot position Montréal as an environmentally responsible destination at this time. We need to observe developments closely as they unfold in order frame a coherent and accurate message.

Can you comment on how or if standards like ISO 20121 and the APEX/ASTM Destination Standard may affect your work in future?

I can tell you that Montréal industry players, and specifically the members of our Green Convention Committee, are eager to know more about these new standards. Since 2010 the event and convention sector has been dealing with Responsible Event Management standard BNQ 9700-253. It is accessible, looks at both procedures and performance, and allows planners to talk about the environmental sustainability of their event before it takes place. Because of this, the standard won over a number of Montréal industry players. The adoption of two new standards will require training sessions and a great deal of communication to bring our members up to speed. The main disadvantage, in my opinion, is the plethora of tourism standards and certifications, which may discourage some people. That said, these new standards are international in scope, which is a definite advantage since most of Montréal’s convention business comes from the United States.

Is there anything planners could do to make it easier for you to provide more sustainable events?

The two most important choices they make with regard to holding an environmentally responsible event are location and partners. At Tourisme Montréal, we can only advise organisers; the final decision is obviously theirs. If an organiser wants to plan the most environmentally responsible event possible, he or she needs to realise that certain concessions must be made. Some of our members are more committed than others because we are all proceeding at our own pace along the road, and because it is not easy for an organisation to switch to environmentally responsible management practises in just a few months. If organisers want to achieve the highest possible level of sustainability for their event, they should be prepared to choose the companies who are the most committed and have made the greatest strides.

What kind of responsibility do you think convention and visitors bureaus have when it comes to sustainability? How are or could they contribute?

First we have to help our members along the path of environmentally responsible development by listening to their concerns, and supporting them as they promote their sustainability initiatives.

As the tourism gateway to our city, we have a duty to educate tourists about the green initiatives being undertaken here. Hundreds of players are deeply committed to bringing about substantive change. Community organisations are doing important work that benefits our environment and society as a whole. If tourists are not already informed about this topic, they are not necessarily aware of all the options for getting involved in our city’s enthusiasm for environmental responsibility. We need to provide people who come to Montréal—whether event organisers or leisure travellers—with the tools to sort through this abundance of green initiatives.

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